Sense of history

FARMVILLE, VA. _ A sense of history and appreciation for structure and planning brought Robert “Bob” Hamlin to the presidency of the Robert Russa Moton Museum’s Board of Directors.

 

A Prince Edward native who spent over 40 years away pursuing careers, degrees and serving in the U.S. Air Force, Hamlin returned to Rice in 1999.

Hamlin retired from Telamon Corp., the nonprofit organization intended to improve the lives of those in need, in 2005 and started working with the museum two years later. He has served as the president of the museum’s board of director’s since 2008.

He became involved with Moton in late 2007 after borrowing a plaque from the museum. The plaque commemorates the fact that 58 of the students displaced when Prince Edward County’s Board of Supervisors closed schools for five years rather than desegregate attended Kittrell Junior College in Kittrell, NC, near Henderson, NC. Hamlin would have been a senior at Moton High School in 1959 when the schools were closed and was among those students that went to Kittrell.

“I just realized the other day I was the only boy from Rice that went,” Hamlin said.

After finishing high school at Kittrell, Hamlin remained on the campus two more years and earned the first of his three associate’s degrees. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Indiana University.

Hamlin was invited to attend a Moton board of directors meeting when he returned the plaque. “Then I began to feel there was something I could really get passionate about,” he said. “It was part of my personal history. I had always told the story during that 40 year period I was absent from here. Then I started to understand from the board what the museum was to be about.”

“This story is about how Prince Edward County transitioned from a segregated society to an integrated society. The museum does not want to tell the story in a way that finger points. There are some people who are totally emotionally tied to the story, both black and white.”

The board of directors has been trimmed from 30 members to 17 members at present, a reduction that is more manageable. The hiring of Lacy Ward Jr. in 2008 as the museum’s director meant the board had to adjust from handling the facility’s day-to-day operation to being more policy and governance oriented. But, Hamlin said, the board is “fully energized” and highly involved in the museum’s operation.

“I’m excited,” he said. “Sometimes I feel a little intimidated because obviously there are people on the board with far greater academic credentials than me. But I believe my strengths are that I’m process oriented and keep the board moving, moving forward so we don’t become stagnant.

The Robert Russa Moton Museum is located at 900 Griffin Boulevard, Farmville, Virginia. It is the site of the April 23, 1951 student walkout, led by 16-year-old sophomore Barbara Johns, in protest of inferior educational facilities. The Moton strike launched Prince Edward County’s 13-year struggle for Civil Rights in Education and resulted in the filing of Davis v. Prince Edward, which called for an end to racial segregation in public education. Davis was decided, along with four other cases, in the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision.

The museum is establishing a permanent exhibit that will trace Prince Edward County’s 13-year struggle to establish an integrated school system. The exhibition will be in place by April 23, 2011, the 60th anniversary of the student protest. It will offer the only place in the Commonwealth of Virginia where visitors can come to understand the processes by which citizens and their national, state, and local governments resolved the policy issues of segregation in public education. For more information visit the museum’s web site at http://motonmuseum.org <http://motonmuseum.org/> .

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